Riding for Sport: Reining
Reining is a popular equestrian sport, displaying horses and
riders in a graceful yet exciting manner.
Like all western riding sports, reining had its start on the
ranch. Cowboys who had to herd cattle, rope calves, and ride long
distances needed reliable, agile and obedient horses.
Unlike the City Slicker, cowpokes from the famous movie, in the
olden days riders did not collapse by the campfire with a bottle
of liniment, but were likely to engage in riding sports,
competing with one another to see who had the fastest horse, who
had the most obedient horse or who could do the best tricks.
Out of these cowboy contests came the elegant and exciting sport
of reining. Today, the skills of the horse and rider are
displayed in the riding of patterns around an arena. These
involve a variety of movements that must be chained together in a
graceful sequence with no observable resistance on the horse's
Reining has been called the "dressage of Western Riding," with a
distinctly hard-driving, sliding, spinning flavor. Its purpose is
to show the horse's smoothness, finesse, obedience and attitude.
Reining is quickly gaining international support as a horseback
riding sport that is likely to achieve Olympic status.
Tack and Turnout for Reining
Reining may be a rough sport, but a little class and good looks
are needed to win the judges.
Rider: Most western riding sports don't require any special
attire aside from a long-sleeved shirt (cotton in summer, wool in
colder weather), a hat or helmet and western boots. Western
clothing and turnout are not judged, but "proper" attire gives a
professional look. Spurs, chaps (only leather is "cool") and
helmets are optional. Many reiners wouldn't be caught dead
without their spurs, but some beginners have trouble climbing
stairs and driving vehicles with spurs on!
In all cases, polished boots, neat clothing and a smart felt hat
improve the western rider's appearance. A straw hat is cooler in
summer, but is easier to lose in the heat of competition. Judges
never deduct points for a flying hat, but it often distracts the
rider and may affect performance.
Horse: Reining requires a western saddle. You can use any Western
headstall without a noseband in conjunction with any standard
Western bit. Split or normal reins are required as is a curb bit
(a bit with a solid or broken mouthpiece with shanks). A rope (or
riata) is allowed, and your horse can wear leg wraps or boots.
The following items are prohibited: martingales, tiedowns,
nosebands, chinstraps narrower than 1/2-inch or mechanical
hackamores. Slip, gag, or donut bits and flat polo mouthpieces
are not allowed either. In some classes, three-piece mouthpieces
Grooming for Reining Trials
If you're a beginner, the old pros might tease you by having you
believe that your horse should look "rugged" and "rode hard." But
if you show up at the starting point with a muddy, messy horse
and holes in your jeans, you'll probably stand out like a sore
thumb. Not that the judges care, but a little poise and
confidence are better for beginners. You needn't invest in
saddles and bridles that ooze silver and fancy saddle blankets
that match your shirt. What judges do notice is a rider who
appears to care a lot about his or her horse.
A Horse for Reining
To achieve the best, reining requires a well-fitted, well-trained
Can any horse be taught reining?: Yes. Some horses are bred
specifically for Western performance events, but as long as they
can handle the maneuvers, all horses benefit from the training.
Quarter Horses are among the most popular choices for reining and
excel at running short distances such as a quarter mile—hence the
Do I ride with both hands on the reins?: Only in the Snaffle Bit
or Hackamore classes for three- and four-year-olds. In most other
classes, one hand is used on the reins.
PATTERN 4 (from the AHSA Rulebook)
Beginning at the center of the arena facing the left wall or
fence. Notice the words highlighted in green . They represent the
basic movements that reining horses and their riders perform in
competition. See the glossary below for definitions of each
Beginning on right lead, complete three circles to the right: the
first two circles large and fast; the third circle small and
slow. Stop at the center of the arena.
Complete four spins to the right. Hesitate.
Beginning on the left lead, complete three circles to the left:
the first two circles large and fast; the third circle small and
slow. Stop at the center of the arena.
Complete four spins to the left. Hesitate.
Beginning on right lead, run a large fast circle to the right,
change leads at the center of the arena, run a large fast circle
to the left, and change leads at the center of the arena.
Continue around previous circle to the right. At the top of the
circle, run down the middle to the far end of the arena past the
end marker and do a right roll back—no hesitation.
Run up the middle to the opposite end of the arena past the end
marker and do a left roll back—no hesitation.
Run past the center marker and do a sliding stop. Back up to the
center of the arena or at least 10 feet. Hesitate to complete
demonstration of the pattern. Rider must drop bridle to the
designated judge or steward as designated by the judge.
Glossary of Reining Terms
Circle: different circle sizes and speeds show control in speed
Hesitate: Demonstrate the horse's ability to stand motionless in
a relaxed position on command.
Lead Change: Change the leading legs at front and rear, at a
lope, when changing direction.
Rollback: Perform a 180-degree change of direction.
Run Down: Demonstrate control and gradual increase of speed
before coming to a stop.
Sliding Stop: Slow from a lope to a stop by bringing the hind
legs under the horse in a locked position, sliding on the hind
Spin: Perform a series of 180-degree turns with hindquarters
fixed and maintained throughout the spin.
Reining is popular in the USA and is growing in popularity on the
international level. The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI)
has approved reining as an international sport. Reining is the
first Western riding sport to achieve this status. Its supporters
hope that it will soon be an event at the Pan Am Games, the World
Equestrian Games and, ultimately, the Olympics.
The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) is the main
organization for reining in the United States. Many reining horse
competitions and state or local organizations use the NRHA rules.
Their main events are the NRHA Derby and the NRHA Futurity. Both
are held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Reining Canada sets standards for reining competition and selects
Canadian teams for international competition. It is based in
Ottawa, Ontario. The main event is the Canada Cup, a series of
three or more events held across the country in the summer.
The National Reining Breeders Classic describes itself as "the
most spectacular show on the reining calendar." The venue for
this event has recently moved from Guthrie, Oklahoma to Katy,
Reining is one of the six equestrian sports supported by USET,
the United States Equestrian Team. This organization prepares
teams for international competition.
The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) supports the sport
of reining in the U.S. by processing approved show and race
results, cataloging performance data, and publicizing reining
events and activities. The AQHA World Championship Show includes
reining events at the amateur, junior, and senior levels.
Most U.S. states from Washington to California are NRHA
affiliates. Canadian provinces such as Nova Scotia, Quebec,
Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia are affiliates.
Worldwide, the NRHA has affiliates in Australia, Israel, Japan,
Austria, France, Italy, Holland, Spain and Switzerland.
Europe also has a number of national reining organizations:
the National Reining Horse Association of Germany
the Italian Reining Horse Association
the Belgian Reining Promotion Group.